Camp Catch Your Breath brings a summertime experience to asthmatic kids

With the arrival of spring, many kids across West Virginia may already be thinking about summer camp. But for kids with asthma, a chronic lung disease, that summertime rite of passage may have seemed an impossible dream. That’s where Camp Catch Your Breath comes in. Chantal Fields, Vice President of Mission for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic gives a little background on the camp.

“It got started as a collaboration early on between United Hospital Center and the American Lung Association,” said Fields. “There was a real need for asthma programming in the state and what we were finding is that a lot of children who have asthma have parents who would not allow them to go to traditional summer camps because their worried that the kids will be exposed to triggers and there might not be proper medical staff there. So seeing a need for one, asthma education [and] two, a camp that kids with a specialty need could go to, the American Lung Association and United Hospital Center partnered together and held the very first asthma camp 25 years ago.”

The American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic covers a wide region that includes West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington DC. Fields said that 14.7 percent or about 43000 kids in West Virginia suffer from the disease. Camp Catch Your Breath is for asthmatic children between the ages of 8 and 13 and is held at Jackson’s Mill Conference Center in Weston, WV.

“We can accept up to 70 to 72 kids,” said Fields. “That’s based on the number of adults we have in beds. It is a six day, five night camp, so between the adults and the kids we can accommodate about 110, 115 people and we normally have 45 adult staff. So we normally get somewhere between 60 and 70 children every summer.”

Fields said the only qualifying criteria for the camp is to have been diagnosed with asthma and fall into the 8-13 age range, although they have occasionally made exceptions.

“Occasionally we will accept a 7 year old if their birthday’s close enough to the camp [dates] and if they’re going to be turning age 8 shortly thereafter,” she said. “And sometimes we will let 14 year olds come back if we feel there’s a real need; like if they are very severe and we feel like they need more management, we have allowed some 14 year olds to come back.”

She said generally by age 14, they’re more interested in being a junior counselor. Each camp has a handful of junior counselors in training and full junior counselors. To be a junior counselor, they’re required to be a graduate of the camp. Fields said they strive to make the camp experience as similar to a normal summer camp as possible. But there are some notable differences.

“These kids are getting a normal camp experience but they also get asthma education,” said Fields. “They actually do go to an hour of asthma education every day where respiratory therapists actually sit and work with these kids teaching them what triggers are, teaching them how to avoid triggers, teaching them what their medications are for and how to correctly use them. Teaching them what’s actually happening in their body when they have an asthma attack.”

Fields said they do this in a fun hands-on approach such as building a model of a lung rather that just looking at a picture of a lung, or through fun games.

“We built marshmallow shooters one year out of PVC piping, because the marshmallow shooters as they were building them represented the bronchial tubes in their lungs,” she said. “And then they had pieces of tape that sort of represented the muscles around the bronchial tubes that would be squeezing them during an asthma attack and they had to blow marshmallows into targets that were the red, yellow and green zones.”

The red, yellow and green zones refer to the level of breathing ability for asthmatics with green indicating normal breathing, yellow indicating some difficulty and red indicating that immediate medical attention is needed. Those activities are followed up with additional education to teach the kids what could trigger an attack and how their bodies respond in different situations. Additionally a doctor and nurses are on staff each day to monitor the kids and their medications.

“We do a campfire, but we use a butane fire pit instead of fire wood because the fire would trigger asthma attacks,” said Fields. “ Looks like everybody else’s campfire at a regular camp with all the traditional campfire activities; it’s just we use a butane fire pit instead.”

Camp Catch Your Breath begins at 1pm on July 19th, 2015 and ends with a family picnic and awards ceremony at noon on July 24th. The theme of this year’s camp is the Rain Forest. The application deadline is July 3rd, but Fields said they will accept applications up to two days before the camp begins as long as they have space. The registration fee for the camp is $70.00, but a limited number of scholarships are available for those who need it.

For more information or to receive a registration packet, please contact the American Lung Association in West Virginia at 304-342-6600 or Sonny Hoskinson at United Hospital Center at 681-342-1560.

Story By

Heather Niday

Heather is our Program Director and Traffic Manager. She started with Allegheny Mountain Radio as a volunteer deejay. She then joined the AMR staff in February of 2007. Heather grew up in the Richmond, Virginia, area and now lives in Arbovale, West Virginia with her husband Chuck. Heather is a wonderful flute player, and choir director for Arbovale UMC. You can hear Heather along with Chuck on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8pm as they host two hours of jazz on Something Different.

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